Last August, after returning from a wonderful family vacation on Grand Cayman Island, I immediately began planning the next trip. I am an avid traveler, and I find great joy in introducing the world to my two young children. I have a list of destinations that runs several pages long (in rather small font), and I try to cross one or two off every year. My husband and I have busy work schedules, and we have a limited travel budget. But, with the proper planning, every destination is within reach.
Step 1: Decide when to travel.
We travel each year during the last week of August. This is a good time for a family vacation because the kids are still off from school, summer camp programs have ended, and work is slow.
Step 2: Decide where to travel.
When my husband and I first started traveling with our children, the maximum travel time before a serious meltdown was about three hours. Now, my kids can easily do a six-hour flight. Check a map to see where you can go within your travel time radius. I also like to have different types of family vacations each year. Since our last family vacation was to the beach, this year, we will be visiting the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia.
Step 3: Do the research.
I begin my research on tripadvisor.com, which provides a wealth of information about everything from hotels and restaurants to must-see attractions and activities. Once I have a preliminary list of things to see and do, I check with the specific websites to obtain more information, such as entrance fees and hours of operation. So far, we intend to spend a few days in Seattle visiting the Pike Place Market, taking a ride on the Seattle Center Monorail, exploring the beaches and wineries on Bainbridge Island, and trekking to the top of Mount Rainier. Then, we will drive Vancouver, British Columbia, which is only 2.5 hours away, where we will enjoy the amazing views from the Vancouver Lookout, walk through the history of Gastown, and take some captivating pictures at the Seawall in Stanley Park.
Step 3: Make a budget.
Airfare is usually the most expensive part of a family vacation. I like to compare prices on kayak.com. You can save on airfare by choosing an early or late flight and by flying on weekdays. Your price quote may also change depending on the time and day, so check back often and keep track of the price. I once booked a flight at 2:45 AM on a Tuesday night because the quote was several hundred dollars less than what I had been quoted the previous afternoon.
The cost of food can also add up quite quickly, so I try to keep this in check by only eating out one meal per day. I stock up on supplies at a local supermarket and usually have breakfast in the hotel room. Then, I either pack a lunch and eat out for dinner or eat out for lunch and come back to the hotel room for dinner.
Step 4: Start saving.
You should never dip into savings to pay for a vacation, so this is the part of vacation planning that often takes a year. We have a separate (free) money market account that is exclusively for vacation expenses. Instead of spending $20 a day buying coffee and lunch, my husband and I pack lunch and bring coffee from home. I set aside $100 in cash and deposit it each week into the account. I also sell my kids’ old clothes on ebay.com. Last fall, I made over $200 on the sweaters and winter coats that they had outgrown. Finally, my kids put any birthday gift money straight into the account. They love travel just as much as me, and they would rather go on vacation than buy another action figure from the toy store.